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Uniting for Change: How we can all contribute to improving BIPOC maternal mental health



As we honor the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. and his fight for civil rights and equality, it is important to also acknowledge the ongoing struggles of Black, Indigenous, and other women of color (BIPOC) in maternal mental health. Despite progress in addressing maternal health disparities, BIPOC mothers continue to face significant barriers to accessing culturally responsive and trauma-informed care. In this blog post, I hope to offer some insights into the unique experiences and challenges that BIPOC mothers face in maternal mental health. I also hope to offer ways in which we can support and empower these mothers in honor of MLK day and beyond.


BACKGROUND

Racial disparities in maternal mental health have been widely documented. There have been several studies that have shown that Black, Indigenous, and other women of color (BIPOC) are more likely to experience depression and anxiety during pregnancy and postpartum than white women.

  • A study published in the Journal of Women's Health found that Black and Hispanic women were more likely to experience postpartum depression than white women.

  • A study published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology found that Black women were more likely to experience anxiety during pregnancy than white women.

  • A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) found that Black women were two to three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than white women.

  • A study published in the Journal of Perinatal Education found that Black and Latina women were less likely to receive mental health screenings and referrals for postpartum depression than white women.

  • A study published in the Journal of Women's Health found that Black women were less likely to receive treatment for postpartum depression than white women, even when they reported similar levels of depression symptoms.


RISK FACTORS & OBSTACLES TO CARE

These disparities are likely due to a combination of factors, including structural racism, discrimination, and lack of access to culturally competent healthcare. Additionally, BIPOC women may face additional stressors such as poverty and discrimination that can impact their mental health. It is important to be aware of these disparities.

  1. Higher rates of maternal mortality and morbidity: Black women are more likely to die from pregnancy-related complications, and are also more likely to experience serious complications during pregnancy and childbirth. This can contribute to poor maternal mental health.

  2. Limited access to culturally competent care: Black women may not have access to healthcare providers who understand and can address their cultural and linguistic needs, which can make it difficult for them to receive appropriate and effective care.

  3. Lack of representation in medical research: Black women are often underrepresented in medical research, which means that there is a lack of understanding of the specific health needs of this population.

  4. Socioeconomic factors: Black women are more likely to live in poverty, which can make it difficult to access and afford quality healthcare, including mental health services.

  5. Racism and discrimination: Black women may experience racism and discrimination both in the healthcare system and in their everyday lives, which can contribute to feelings of stress, anxiety, and depression.

  6. Stigma and shame: Black women may be stigmatized and shamed for seeking help for maternal mental health issues, which can make it difficult for them to seek help and support.

  7. Trauma-informed care: Due to the impact of historical and ongoing racism, discrimination and violence, many Black women have experienced trauma. A trauma-informed care approach should be used to understand and address the unique needs of Black women and families.


WAYS TO SUPPORT BIPOC MOTHERS

There are several ways to honor Black maternal mental health on Martin Luther King Jr. Day (MLK Day), or any day. When checking in on a Black mother, it's important to be sensitive to the unique experiences and challenges that she may be facing related to maternal mental health.

  1. Listen and believe: Listen to Black mothers when they share their experiences and concerns about their mental and physical health, and believe them.

  2. Offer emotional and practical support: Black mothers may need emotional support, such as a listening ear, and practical support, such as help with childcare or errands. Here are some helpful ways that you could approach a conversations about checking in and offering support in the table below)

  3. Educate oneself: Learn more about the unique experiences and challenges that Black mothers face in maternal mental health, and how to provide appropriate and effective support.

  4. Reflect on the intersectionality: Reflect on the way that racism, poverty, and discrimination intersect and how it impacts Black mothers' mental and physical health.

  5. Use your privilege: Use your privilege to advocate for policies and programs that support Black maternal mental health, such as funding for research and education, and access to culturally competent care.

  6. Be an ally: Be an ally for Black mothers, and speak up against racism, discrimination, and other forms of oppression that they may face.

  7. Support Black-led organizations: Donate to or volunteer with organizations that focus on improving maternal health outcomes for Black women and families.

  8. Amplify Black voices: Share the stories and experiences of Black mothers on social media and in other platforms, to raise awareness and understanding of Black maternal mental health.

  9. Speak out: Use your voice to advocate for policies and programs that support Black maternal mental health, such as funding for research and education, and access to culturally competent care.

"I care about you, and I want to make sure that you have the support you need to take care of yourself."

"How are you feeling? I am here to listen and support you."

"I understand that there may be unique challenges you are facing as a Black mother, do you feel comfortable talking about them?"

"I know that it can be difficult to talk about mental health, but it's important to take care of our mental health, how are you feeling emotionally?"

"How are you feeling? I am here to listen and support you."

"I understand that the maternal health disparities for Black women are real and systemic, I want to support you in any way that I can"

It's important to remember that each person's experience is unique, so it's important to be sensitive to the individual's needs and feelings. It's also important to be an active listener, not just talking but listen to what the person has to say and try to understand their perspective. Avoid making assumptions or generalizing experiences, it's important to approach each person with an open mind and a willingness to learn.


ORGANIZATIONS THAT SUPPORT BIPOC MOTHERS

There are several organizations that provide support and resources for Black, Indigenous, and other women of color (BIPOC) who are experiencing maternal mental health issues. A few examples include:

  1. Black Mamas Matter Alliance: This organization is dedicated to improving maternal health outcomes for Black women and families through policy, education, and community engagement.

  2. Postpartum Support International (PSI): PSI provides education, resources, and support for women and families experiencing perinatal mood and anxiety disorders, with a specific focus on communities of color.

  3. Therapy for Black Girls: created by Dr. Joy Harden Bradford, a licensed psychologist based in Atlanta, Georgia, this website offers a directory of Black therapists, mental health resources, and a podcast that aims to provide a space for Black women to discuss mental health and wellness in a supportive and non-judgmental environment. The website also provides online therapy and counseling services, as well as a community forum to connect with other Black women and girls who are seeking support and resources.

  4. The National Black Women's Reproductive Justice Agenda: This organization is dedicated to advancing reproductive justice for Black women and families through advocacy, education, and community mobilization.

  5. Black Maternal Health Momnibus: This organization is dedicated to improving maternal health outcomes for Black women and families through policy, education, and community engagement.

  6. Black Women Birthing Justice Collective: This organization is dedicated to improving maternal health outcomes for Black women and families through policy, education, and community engagement

  7. Black Mothers' Breastfeeding Association: This organization provides education and support for Black mothers who are breastfeeding or considering breastfeeding.


CONCLUSION

MLK Day is an opportunity to remember the work of Dr. King and his legacy of racial equality, but it is also an opportunity to recognize and honor the ongoing struggle for Black maternal health. By committing to take action and raise awareness, we can all contribute to creating a more just and equitable society for Black mothers and families.


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